Some Denver businesses wring their hands at the thought of reopening, though they could use the money

“It’s kind of frightening to say no, and it’s frightening to say yes.”

Martha Jamieson, owner of La Fiesta flower shop and piñataria, prepares a vase in her Federal Boulevard shop. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Martha Jamieson, owner of La Fiesta flower shop and piñataria, prepares a vase in her Federal Boulevard shop. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

KEVIN-lighter

Eva Araujo had mixed emotions when she heard this week that Gov. Polis announced that Colorado could begin to come out of its pandemic hibernation.

Her Mexican restaurant, Araujo’s on 26th Avenue at Federal Boulevard, has been operating with a skeleton crew for weeks. Business has been very slow, and she said she was just barely able to make payroll on Monday. Her rent is more than $2,000 a month. With utilities and insurance, it’s a scary time for her family’s livelihood.

So the possibility of re-opening, even under social distancing guidelines, is tempting. She’d like her cash flow to start picking back up. But the possibility that she or her staff could catch the novel coronavirus also concerns her. She and her husband have been talking through the dilemma since Polis’ announcement.

“It’s kind of frightening to say no, and it’s frightening to say yes,” she said. “We’re not sure all of this has actually gotten better.”

The statewide stay-at-home order will expire on Sunday, and Polis said workplaces will be allowed to reopen to half of their normal capacity on May 4. Denver’s stay-at-home order is set to expire on April 30, but it has yet to reveal a plan for how the city will reopen.

Still, proprietors are beginning to think about their next steps.

Maria Espinoza works in the kitchen at Araujo's Mexican restaurant on 26th Avenue by Federal Boulevard. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Maria Espinoza works in the kitchen at Araujo's Mexican restaurant on 26th Avenue by Federal Boulevard. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Araujo's Mexican restaurant on 26th Avenue by Federal Boulevard. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Araujo's Mexican restaurant on 26th Avenue by Federal Boulevard. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Martha Jamieson, who owns a piñata shop not far from Araujo’s, said she could use the money, too. She said she feels bad that she’s not taking calls from her landlord right now, but she just can’t pay the rent. Meanwhile, she’s trying to figure out how to keep the business going. Mother’s Day is around the corner, and she hopes she can sell flowers from her parking lot.

Jamieson has applied for money wherever she can get it, but so far nothing has come through. She’s hoping she’ll hear soon from the city, which has offered $7,500 grants for businesses. She still hasn’t heard back from the Small Business Administration about her loan application, and she hasn’t received a stimulus check from the federal government. She should get a couple thousand dollars this week from the Federal Boulevard Business Improvement District, which has turned its $30,000 event budget into a grant fund. Small as it may be, Jamieson said that money will go a long way.

While these opportunities may tide her over, they won’t replace her revenue forever. She needs to get the business going again, but it’s a proposition that fills her with anxiety.

“I’m so worried about the virus,” she said. “I will do everything to take all the safety into account, anything I can do to prevent [the spread]. But at the same time, I’d at least like to be allowed to make some money.”

She said she’ll open on May 1, though she’s still waiting to hear what rules she’ll need to abide by.

Martha Jamieson, owner of La Fiesta flower shop and piñataria, walks through her Federal Boulevard shop. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Martha Jamieson, owner of La Fiesta flower shop and piñataria, walks through her Federal Boulevard shop. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

On Broadway, Alicia Cardenas is trying to rework her tattoo and piercing parlor, Sol Tribe, to reopen eventually. When she spoke to Denverite a few weeks ago, she was concerned about her ability to continue operating in the commercial district where rents had already become tough to manage.

But Cardenas’ perspective has shifted since April 1. She was able to work out a plan with her landlord, so now she’s less worried about bankruptcy than she is about how, exactly, she’ll be able to open.

Tattoos and piercings are an especially difficult area, she said, because it’s so intimate.

“We’re within people’s mouths,” she said. “There’s no way that we’re in a position right now to do that.”

Cardenas hopes Denver will come up with some solid guidelines for shops like hers to safely restart business. She helped pen the city’s tattoo and piercing rules more than 20 years ago, and she said they’ve long needed updating.

She thinks shops should be required to talk with clients before they come in to ensure they’re not sick. She plans to put up signs and rope barriers to keep people away from staff when it’s not their turn to get ink. As tight as things are for her bottom line, she’ll have to spend more for these items before she’s comfortable letting customers back inside.

And even if the mayor decides to make rules on top of state guidance, slowing Denver’s reopening beyond the rest of Colorado, Cardenas said she’ll stick to her own schedule. It will be phased, staggered to meet her concerns.

“There’s going to be a second wave of this if we’re not careful,” she said. “We are not going to be lured into opening a business that doesn’t have solid guidelines.”

Alicia Cardenas, owner of Sol Tribe Tattoo and Body Piercing, stands in her Broadway shop as her daughter, Xochitl, plays on a silk behind her. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Alicia Cardenas, owner of Sol Tribe Tattoo and Body Piercing, stands in her Broadway shop as her daughter, Xochitl, plays on a silk behind her. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A rope barried is one feature of the "new normal" for Sol Tribe Tattoo and Body Piercing on Broadway. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A rope barried is one feature of the "new normal" for Sol Tribe Tattoo and Body Piercing on Broadway. April 22, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

In Centennial, Veronica and Elisa Mata are also faced with this dilemma. The Clue Room, which they said is the largest escape room complex in the state, relies on contact to be successful. They’ve been pushing virtual escape puzzles that people can play at home while things have been closed, but it’s not bringing a cash flow anywhere close to what they need.

Like Cardenas, the Matas have been able to work something out with their landlord, so they’re not facing an imminent emergency. They’ll open up as soon as they’re allowed, but it will be different than it was just a few months ago. They’ll stagger games and give themselves more time to reset and clean puzzles before they allow more people inside. And even if they do continue operations below normal capacity, Elisa said she’s not sure customers will come.

The pandemic, she said, “will affect us until there is a cure.”

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But in Sun Valley, Belfay Engineering president Dave Bellefeuille said he’d like to bring his employees back to the office as soon as possible. Unlike the others we spoke to for this story, his business does not rely on customers walking through the door. Belfay creates plans and blueprints for HVAC and power systems for the many apartment buildings under construction across the city. While most of his staff of about 15 have been working from home, he said they’ve been almost as productive as usual. He’s just missing that collaborative aspect that his team only gets when they’re in the same room.

Bellefeuille said the virus has never worried him much, but he let his employees work from home because they were preoccupied with it. He was among the crowd on the Capitol lawn Sunday calling on an end to statewide restrictions.

“They should just open everything up,” he said. “Otherwise we’ll go into a recession, and that will suck.”

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